Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Back to Ohio

Although I was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio I've been living in Chicago for the past 17 years.  Sometimes I feel like a tourist when I go back to visit family.  This isn't always a bad thing. It makes me reevaluate some of the things about Lorain that I've always taken for granted.  And somehow I've acquired another Ohio hometown-- Ashtabula, where my wife grew up and where we visit Felix and Theo's grandmother. This post is a visual record of our visit over the week of the Fourth of July.

This is an old Quonset Hut in Saybrook, OH, repurposed as a storage building.  I'm surprised how many storage buildings are found in rural areas.  Doesn't everyone have enough space?  Perhaps it's just an easy way to get some return on a large building without having to add many improvements.  Quonset huts were perfected during WWII-- easy to construct and easy to remove when no longer needed.  This one has been made permanent with a concrete "skirt" poured around the perimeter.

I believe this is an old Pure Oil Service Station which has been altered and covered with vinyl siding.  Angela tells me that it used to be a gun shop, but it looks like it's been vacant for some time.  I think this is also in Saybrook.

This is a concession stand from Geneva-on-the-Lake.  This the low budget 1920s resort strip that I've written about (and drawn) before, but it still fascinates me.  If we ever move back to northern Ohio I think it would make a good research project.

 To the left is a detail from the Bridge Street District in Ashtabula.  There's  a great collection of Italianate and Queen Anne style storefronts here,  remnants of a more prosperous time.  If there was any justice in Ashtabula this would be the most popular shopping district in the county.  You can almost feel it struggling to become the alternative to the strip malls that pass for commercial districts everywhere else.

I believe this is a grain depot in Austinburg, just down the road from our hotel.  I've never been sure of how these things work.  Somehow grains are lifted to the top of the apparatus and a separated into different grades in various containers.  They probably would be surprised if I asked for a tour.

 This is also in Austinburg.  Judging by the Greek Revival style I have to place this around 1850, if not earlier.  Due to a pesky fire in 1871 it's not possible to see buildings of this age in Chicago, although you can still find some in the suburban areas.  It looks vacant.  Even the trailer parked in front to sell overstock fireworks looks pretty run-down.

So finally we get back to Lorain, which made its reputation as a major steel city on Lake Erie.  The steel mills are still in South Lorain, but they're a shadow of what they once were.  This is a view from 28th Street.  I remember the mountains of purple iron ore that would be unloaded from enormous ships docked on the Black River.  Not as much of that anymore.

Here are some storefronts at Grove and E. 30th Street, not far from where my sister lives. They look vacant, but sometimes it's hard to tell.

And here's my last image of Lorain. A lone brick and frame cottage with bay windows. It looks like the storefront has been converted into a bar.  A very dark bar.  I'm not likely to walk into a dark bar, but maybe I'm not their target customer.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

7405-7427 N. Wolcott, Defense Housing, 1942

On the corner of Wolcott and Fargo there's a collection of eight identitical duplexes arranged around two common courts. The simple massing and limited detailing suggests public housing.  That's not far from the mark, but the story is a bit more complex.

Even though the United States didn't enter WWII until 1941, the writing was on the wall much earlier.  As the country prepared to shift into full-scale wartime production, a huge deficit in housing needed to be addressed.

Let's say you're a government and need to build some housing ASAP or risk losing the biggest war in all of human history.  Here are a few methods you might consider:

1. Buy land and build permanent homes. Or entire neighborhoods.  Or entire cities.
2. Build temporary homes.
3. Prioritize materials for war-related private projects.
4. Provide financial incentives for property owners to create additional units in existing buildings. 

In the end the Federal government did all of these things and more.  Numerous agencies were created to administer these programs, some with Congressional authorization and some without.  It wasn't unusual for the administration of one program to be folded into another, based on funding and legislation.  There must be historians who specialize in Federal housing policy, but I don't envy them. 

The Office of Production Manangement (OPM) was responsible for regulating building materials.  If a project was important to the war effort, it would receive a priority rating.  If it didn't have a priority rating it probably wouldn't get built.  Chicago was one of 275 "defense areas" identified as appropriate for the development of war housing. 

The most important restriction placed on defense housing was a $6,000 price cap per unit.  Chicago's City Council immediately protested this limitation, arguing that the higher cost of land in Chicago would send most of these projects to the suburbs.  The suburbs received their share of defense housing, but many projects did eventually locate in the city, particularly near the city limits where cheap undeveloped land could be found.
Looking East from N.Wolcott.  Behind the trees are the El and Metra embankments.
The cap forced some Chicago builders to vary from the small detached single family residences commonly built as defense housing.  Instead, developers looked for ways to combine units into larger buildings on several lots, allowing them to bring down costs through an economy of scale.  I haven't yet confirmed this, but I suspect the development regulations of Chicago were relaxed at this time to allow greater flexiblity in the placement of multi-unit buildings.  This permitted projects to share common spaces while resulting in a greater overall density.  This treatment would become common with the introduction of planned developments in Chicago's 1957 zoning ordinance, but it must have been unusual in the 1940s. The underlying lot configuration of this area would have allowed six individual buildings with frontages on Wolcott.  Instead there are eight buildings, four of which have no frontage at all. 

Given the strict cost limits, the design of the buildings is worth noting.  You can't get much simpler than a rectangular box with a pitched roof.  They have common brick walls with simple arched limestone entrances.  Any architectural detail is the result of projecting brick string courses of various designs.  It looks to me like a scaled-down version of  the Art Moderne style.
Defense Homes for West Rogers Park (Chicago Tribune, 4/19/42)

The architect for this project was Carl J. Kastrup, who had won prizes for his designs of low-cost suburban housing prior to the war.  In 1942 his firm joined four others to collectively address the challenges of designing and administering defense-related work.

I feel like there's much more to be written about the development of defense housing in Chicago.  In particular, it seems that the designs developed under strict economic and administrative pressure had an enormous influence on the look of Chicago in the post-war period.  But this will have to wait for some additional research.

Monday, July 2, 2012

7440-7455 N. Hoyne, 1929 - Emma Kennett Strikes Again

On the short block of Hoyne between Fargo and Birchwood our intrepid developer, Emma Kennett, probably created her most notable project.  These six buildings are roughly the same size and shape, but their facades were given the high-style eclectic treatment popular in the 1920s.  And of course nothing said taste and luxury quite like French and Spanish Revival. 

According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune on March 31, 1929, these buildings represented a $480,000 investment on behalf of the developer. That's nearly $6.5 million adjusted to 2012.  An ambitious undertaking.  And as a side note, just a few months away from the onset of the Great Depression.

On the east side of the block are the Spanish Revival styles.  They all have various types of wrought iron balconies and a pale cream brick, which was seen as appropriate to the style.  There are casement windows and French doors on the upper floors, and double-hung windows with similar pane divisions at the ground level.  The casement windows alone are worth a visit.  So few original casements survive from the 20s, and this block has an impressive number of them.  Imagine how much these buildings would lose with simple double-hung replacements.

I'm particularly impressed by the door on the left.  Not only is it an arched door in a rounded tower, but the door itself is curved to match the tower radius.  The middle door is set within an ornamental stone surround that I can only describe as Art Deco.  The simplicity of the door to the right is off-set by a complex portal window, which reflects some of the arched windows treatments on the block.  Two have elaborate copper kick-plates and decorative hinges attached with rivets.

The west side of the block is even more elaborate.  Curved towers and complex roof forms anchor these buildings, which have random-cut limestone veneers at the lower floors and brick above.  The half-timbering designs are works of art in themselves. The false mansard roofs on this side of the street are large, making them easier to read than the Spanish-style roof forms across the street. 

The doors are great, each with a unique design and window pattern.  They all have the same copper kick-plates and hinges seen on the east side of the block.  And I've never seen a window pattern quite like the one found on the center door.

The Tribune article indicates that Emma Kennett designed these buildings with the help of Herbert J. Richter.  A casual internet seach couldn't turn up the identity of Mr. Richter.  I assumed he was the architect, but according to the Chicago Historic Resources Survey the architect of record is Arthur Bucket.  This would make sense, since I already found Arthur Bucket's name associated with the corner apartment building at Farwell and Oakley, which I wrote about previously.  So who's Herbert Richter?  No idea.

It was great to find these buildings included in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, and it gives me an opportunity to illustrate the value of a good survey sheet.  In addition to a site map and small photograph the surveyor also creates a narrative of the architectural significance of the building.  The account below explains why architectural historians are in constant danger of walking in front of cars while wandering through the city:
7451-7455 N. Hoyne
Symmetrical facade centers on semi-circular plan bay/stair tower with portal at base and topped with a hexagonal roof and finial.  Romanseque casement windows on either side of door topped with six-paned fan light.  All windows in sets of threes except baseement of simple Roman arch.  First floor fenestration repeats casement-fanlight treament with a colonade of counter-spiralled pilasters.

Third floor bays have pairs of French doors opening onto balconies flanked by smaller windows. 

Stylized Italianate eave brackets lead the eye to small windows on 2nd/3rd floors, one with ornated carved limestone surrounds and pilasters. 

Door is carved, paneled oak with semicircular leaded overglass with peep windows at eye level.  Keystones, sills, brackets and spiral columns rendered in stone.  Limestone coping on south corner gate repeats brackets at roofline. The lion finial weathervane atop tower [Did I miss this, or is it gone?], false hinges on doors and kickplate are hammered copper.
It's exhausting to read too many of these, so I'm just including this one as a representative sample.  Some descriptions are much longer.

And of course I need to include L.B. Sugerman's rendering of the west side of the street. He provided a number of perspective drawings for Kennett Construction, and once I find a better quality example of his work I'll revisit him in greater detail.